Big Brands Are Fuelling the Business of Nutrition

Dr Myriam Sidibe is a Senior Fellow at the Mossavar Rahmani Center for Business and Government at Harvard Kennedy School and is on sabbatical leave from Unilever.
Jane Nelson directs the Center’s Corporate Responsibility Initiative at Harvard Kennedy School.

By Dr Myriam Sidibe and Jane Nelson
CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts, Oct 29 2018 (IPS)

Food is an increasingly hot topic, no matter if you are rich or poor. Malnutrition – including undernutrition, overweight and obesity – affects 1 in 3 people around the world.

When it comes to the link between health and nutrition, consumers in both developed and emerging economies are facing high social and economic costs of being malnourished. While governments must take the lead in tackling malnutrition, this situation presents untapped commercial opportunities to develop new products and market-based solutions to deliver more nutritious foods. As people and policymakers wise up to the importance of eating a varied and healthy diet, an increasing number of commercial enterprises are springing up to satisfy this growing demand. It is in this context that over 200 experts recently gathered at the Nutrition Africa Investment Forum in Nairobi. The forum offered a platform for fresh ideas to develop the food value chain and to mobilize private sector investment and innovation to enhance nutrition in Africa.

Small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) are widely acknowledged as key to the economic development of Africa. This is just as true for their role in the nutritional development of the continent. SMEs, with more agile business models and capability for nimble strategy pivots, are essential in driving the innovation needed to stimulate greater variety in diets. As they look to expand operations in Africa, more established corporations must take note of this. The smart ones are already partnering with and investing in smaller, more innovative companies, transforming nutrition on the continent in the process. There is an essential role for both large and small companies in creating the change that is needed.

Multinationals and SMEs must expand their collaboration beyond food production, packaging and processing. The next step should be towards dramatically increasing consumer demand for more nutritious and sustainable foods, facilitating a shift in the entire food system. Big brands have the ability to make nutritious foods that are better for the planet and to increase demand and accessibility. Nutritious food products made by big brands that are classified as ‘processed’ can enable people all over the world to cook delicious, healthy meals in a short amount of time for a relatively small amount of money. This empowers household cooks to expand the variety of meals they create, which is good for the health of people and our planet.

Changing consumer tastes are critical to the direction our food system will evolve towards. Diversified diets improve human health and benefit the environment through varied production systems that encourage more sustainable use of resources and greater biodiversity. Global brands have the power to lead a movement to affect this change, through their billions of consumers. Knorr, for example, is in the homes of 2.8 billion people around the world. This presents a huge opportunity to impact diets globally. The brand has serious influence in agriculture too, buying over 333,000 tonnes of vegetables and herbs every year, much of this from thousands of smallholder farmers.

Locally, these brands can influence tastes to improve nutrition. Royco, for example, is the local brand of Knorr in Kenya. Having earned a reputation for enriching the flavour of meals, Royco now has the reach and credibility to change consumer behaviour around what people eat and how they cook. These are notoriously difficult habits to change.

Royco’s Green Food Steps behaviour change programme inspires household cooks to add green leafy vegetables alongside iron fortified cubes to common dishes, ensuring they still taste as good as before. The programme was launched in Nigeria, where one in two women of reproductive age suffer from anaemia. It has made a small change with a huge potential impact to get millions of households to adopt this simple behaviour to increase their iron intake. Partners including Christian Aid, Amref and Well Being Foundation have adopted the programme and the messages to impact more households in rural areas. To date, the programme has reached over 20 million people in Nigeria and aims to reach a further 20 million. In Kenya, the target is Five million.

An evaluation of this program conducted in collaboration with University of Gent, Belgium, and University of Ibadan, Nigeria, revealed that over 40 percent of participants changed their behaviour, adding leafy greens and iron fortified cubes to their dishes. This and similar initiatives can make a significant impact on the intake of iron and the overall nutritional value of staple meals. It offers a clear example of how a brand can use its reach and influence to change the way people cook and eat for the better, using marketing resources and know-how to improve public health.

The Green Food Steps programme is just one example of how big brands can change people’s relationships with food and create a positive impact on society and the environment. Bold players leading ambitious movements that improve how people eat and experience their food will shape the future of African nutrition. With this in mind, investors at the look-out for those organisations with the ambitions and commercial potential to create the systemic change that our continent is hungry for.

The Harvard Kennedy School recently published a report focused on unlocking greater commercial investment into value chains that can improve access to nutritious foods among low-income consumers in developing markets.

Women’s Climate Leadership More Vital Than Ever In Light Of Climate Change Report

Women in the Democratic Republic of Congo work to reforest the Itombwe region as a part of WECAN/SAFECO program. Credit: Stany Nzabas

By Osprey Orielle Lake and Emily Arasim
SAN FRANCISCO, Oct 29 2018 (IPS)

The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, which arrived thunderously in October, concludes that we have only 12 years remaining to transform our energy systems and ways of living to limit the worst effects of climate change.

The IPCC report stands as the loudest clarion call yet from global climate scientists, stating that we must act immediately to keep global warming to a maximum of 1.5°C temperature rise, beyond which, by even half a degree, ecological and social consequences are catastrophically amplified.

As we look around the proverbial room for answers and solutions in this moment of intensified clarity and urgency, it is imperative that we turn to one of the main untold stories of the climate crisis – the story of women leading climate solutions.

Research including Project Drawdown, United Nations reports and programs, and many other studies, all confirm that one of the most important strategies for a sustainable and thriving future is upholding the rights, and supporting the education and leadership of women.

While women are central to solutions, they also are disproportionately impacted by the negative effects of global warming due to unequal gender norms, which marginalize women’s voices, and impact women’s economic opportunities, rights, bodies, education, and political power. From natural disasters, to food system stress, to water pollution – women experience the impacts of climate change first and worst.

Frontline women leaders during at WECAN International event at the UN Climate Talks. Credit: Emily Arasim/WECAN International

Additionally, when women advocate to protect the water, forests, land, seeds, climate, and future generations with which they are so intimately linked – they are increasingly experiencing violence and criminalization, including perverse gender-based violations.

Nevertheless, women fight on, and are at the forefront of some of the most innovative and transformational projects being undertaken around the world.

In Ecuador, Indigenous women lead movements to protect their communities and the Amazon rainforest from oil extraction.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, women participating in a Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network program are contributing to the reforestation of the Itombwe region as they restore the ecology of the rainforest community, provide for household uses, and protect the ancient old-growth forests.

In many parts of India, rural women are spearheading efforts to protect agriculture biodiversity, build food security, and steward water, soils, and community health.

Frontline women leaders and allies take action outside of the United Nations in New York following a WECAN event. Credit: Emily Arasim/WECAN International

Across North America, indigenous women are taking action at the forefront of the global movement for fossil fuel divestment – and these are just a few of the countless examples of what women are doing to change the current trajectory of the climate crisis.

In order to provide a window into the plethora of solutions that women are engaged in, the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network produced ‘Women Speak: Stories, Case Studies And Solutions From The Frontlines Of Climate Change’, an online research and story-telling database designed to shift the narrative on how we build equitable climate solutions.

‘Women Speak’ allows policy makers, journalists, activists, educators, students, and others, to explore thousands of stories by and about global women leaders working in areas such as forest and biodiversity protection; fossil fuel resistance efforts; ecologic agriculture; renewable energy; climate law and policy; education and grassroots movement building; and much more.

As the database illustrates, women have the social capital to work at the local and global level to create the restorative communities and economies that we need for a just transition with democratized, regenerative renewable energy for all.

However, even with all the studies and examples available, women’s climate leadership continues to be undervalued, underreported, and underfunded.

Given the short timeline for action identified by the IPCC report – we simply cannot afford to keep ignoring the direct connection between women and effective responses to climate change. To act on climate with justice and results means uplifting the voices of women – particularly of grassroots women, Indigenous women, and women of color – who have a long history and knowledge of living close to the land and of resistance efforts, and who are offering countless examples of successful community-led solutions.

If we are to truly address the multiple and interrelated crises we face, we also cannot afford to ignore the link between patriarchy, colonization, capitalism, and the historic and ongoing assault of the Earth and women.

Extractivism and exploitation of both women and the Earth are derived from the same ideology of domination and supremacy – and it is imperative that plans to address climate change take into account the root causes of the crisis.

Now is the time of women rising to protect and defend the Earth. Now is the time to vote women into office. Now is time to hear the voices of women and support their efforts.

Now is the time to act on the scientific and experience-based truth that women’s leadership is key to addressing climate change.